Writing is easy. Writing is fun.
Writing is a pain in the butt. Writing is possibly the most difficult thing you will ever do.
All of the above are true. How can opposite descriptions be true of the same thing?
It depends. (Sound familiar, students from Digital Photography?)
Most people have this idea of a writing sitting down at his or her desk, quill pen in hand, blank piece of paper before them. They look off into the sky and then come up with a sudden inspiration. The words flow freely. After two years of sitting in front of that paper with pen in hand, the first and last draft is completed. The writer gathers up his 1,000 pages of inspired, handwritten prose and sends it off to the publisher. The publisher immediately responds with a letter full of praise for the writer, stating that their book will be the next Great American Novel.
Writing is a long process, which starts with research. Research leads to an idea, which leads to more research. Then comes outlining and plotting and character development. The writer jots ideas onto many, many sheets of paper until the idea starts to crystallize in his or her mind. When the vision becomes clear, it is time to put words–the words that count–on paper. There’s a rough draft. Then there are many–the exact number varies– drafts afterward. Finally after a long time polishing, the writer sends the manuscript off–still feeling like it is not yet perfect–and hopes that an agent and/or a publisher will agree to publish it. There may be some more revisions after that, but you get the picture.
But today I want to talk about the fun part of it. I refer to as the rough draft–otherwise referred to in my writing classes as the crap draft. Excuse the language, but that term is actually cleaned up from the original version, and it helps would-be writers understand what the nature of that draft really is.
Because the whole purpose of the rough draft is simply to get words on paper. To tell the story, any way you can, ugly or not.
Last fall I read an article–I believe it was in Wired magazine–about the annual National Novel Writing Month, which is held online each November. Between November 1 and November 30, writers are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel from beginning to end. I do well under pressure, and I also do well with accountability to others. Because of that, I agreed to participate. What helped a lot was also discovering Twitter. There were many others on Twitter who were doing NaNoWriMo, and so we encouraged each other and kept each other on track. I was able to complete my 50,000-word novel before November 30 rolled around. That novel, “The Kiss of Night,” is presently being shopped around to literary agents in hopes that someone will agree to represent me. It took a lot of polishing to get the book to the place where I wanted to share it with the public. But if it weren’t for National Novel Writing Month, there’s a good chance it would never have been written.
I learned a couple of important things by being involved with NaNoWriMo. First, I had believed that I couldn’t write during the school year because of the distraction of teaching classes. I was wrong. Second, I realized that I could write faster than I thought I could write. What made that possible is the key to NaNoWriMo: Write fast. Go for quantity, not quality. Don’t edit. Don’t stop to correct. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.
Not pausing to determine if my grammar was correct or if I had gotten a name right was extremely liberating. I got lost in the story, knowing that on another day I would worry whether my words made any sense. And the reality is, I ended up writing the 50,000 novel in 14 days!
One caveat on that: I cheated a little bit. About six months earlier, I had written one of the chapters on its own as a potential short story. The chapter helped me realize that there was a story worth exploring that would later be turned into a book. The previously written chapter became chapter six in the book.
It’s probably not wise to sit down at a desk without having a clue as to what you are going to write. I do a lot of planning before I start writing. But there are some novelists that do exactly that: they say the story writes itself. They just put it on paper. I’ve never had that work for me, and the cardinal rule for writing is: Do whatever it takes to get words on paper. Whatever works for you.
The point is, when it comes time to write the rough draft, just write. Don’t edit, don’t second guess. Second guessing leads to writer’s block, and writer’s block leads to the darkside. Let the Force flow through you.
I’ll be gone for a few days, but when I get back, we’ll talk about outlining and how it can help you.